Government talks step up a gear as focus shifts to health

By Daniel McConnell
Political Editor

The talks between Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, and the Green Party are to escalate significantly today, with the parties beginning deliberations on the future of the health service.
The talks between Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, and the Green Party are to escalate significantly today, with the parties beginning deliberations on the future of the health service.

Children and women are to be the first groups to get universal access in the move to a single-tier health system, under plans to be discussed by the three parties looking to form a government.

The talks between Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, and the Green Party are to escalate significantly today, with the parties beginning deliberations on the future of the health service.

Top of the agenda will be how to prioritise and quicken the pace of achieving a single-tier health system, and how that will be paid for, sources have said. The Green Party is demanding delivery of a single-tier health system based on need, rather than the ability to pay.

The party’s negotiators are to argue that the fairest and most progressive way to achieve this is by funding it from general taxation. They also want to see a move to multi-annual budgeting in health and “activity-based costing and blended capitation schemes to incentivise efficient targeted use of resources throughout our health system”.

In terms of reform, the parties are likely to agree on the need to ensure that all new consultant contracts in the public health service are public only, as part of a move to the single-tier system.

The Irish Examiner understands that negotiations will focus on how best to invest in public health infrastructure, in order to help return society to normality post- Covid-19. The parties will also look to agree on how best to manage public health threats such as future pandemics.

Health Minister Simon Harris will be present at talks this morning, due to start at 10.30am in Agriculture House on Dublin’s Kildare St, in what is expected to be the first of several sessions on the future of the health service.

Mr Harris yesterday informed his Cabinet colleagues f his intention to bring his proposal next week on whether he extends or modifies the current deal with private hospitals which is costing in the region of €115 million a month. The future of such hospitals will be determined by the political agreement reached by the parties in the new programme for government.

Sources close to the talks said the parties will seek to agree a plan on how to expand the country’s health infrastructure and expedite the implementation of a universal healthcare service, as recommended in the Sláintecare report.

It is expected that the expansion of universal access to the health service will begin with a focus on paediatrics and women’s health. Sources also said the talks will centre on plans to increase bed capacity, diagnostics, and staff numbers to provide community and hospital care more quickly.

It is expected that the parties will discuss the need to prioritise primary care, so that patients are diagnosed and receive care in the community, including for mental health. All parties are likely to agree on a plan to promote healthy living, good mental health, and better diet; and enable people to be physically active across their lifespan.

The move on health talks is a sign that despite controversy over the Green Party’s leadership, progress is being made. The parties hope to finalise the document by the end of next week.